Suhakam wants repeal of police permit for rallies

Dec 12, 07 3:06pm

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has reiterated its recommendation to the government to regulate peaceful public assemblies with new guidelines and to repeal Section 27 of the Police Act 1967.

In a statement signed by the secretary Ahmad Yusuf Ngah, issued in Kuching today, Suhakam reminded the authorities of the need to review regulations and guidelines for crowd control of any peaceful assembly.
This is to ensure that use of force is only employed “where it is strictly necessary for the enforcement of law and the maintaining of public order”.
This was in apparent reference to police intervention into two mass rallies last month, respectively organised by polls reform coalion Bersih on Nov 10 and the Hindu Rights Action Force on Nov 25.
Tear gas and water cannon were used on both occasions, while dozens of protesters from both groups have since been charged with illegal assembly, among other allegations.
Suhakam commissioners, who were in Kuching yesterday for their 94th monthly meeting, also responded to criticism by former chairperson Musa Hitam, in an interview with the New Sunday Times over the weekend.
The statement said that, since his tenure ended in 2002, he might not be aware of the many recommendations made by Suhakam to improve the level of human rights.
Musa, who helmed the commission for two years from its inception in 2000, said he had “tried my very best to get organised demonstrations accepted, organised in the sense that all parties assume responsibility together”.
He elaborated that this system will require applications for relevant permits, although the intention should not be for the purpose of restricting demonstrations. Oganisers should comply with strict procedures covering orderliness, cleanliness and pre-determined routes or sites, “so that there is accountability and responsibility”.
“Traffic and regular police will be there to ensure orderliness […] there will be riot police at hand, in case anything goes wrong. This agreement must be signed and sealed. If necessary, pass a law, or a by-law that relates to it. Then, people will get used to this culture,” Musa said.

‘Apparent bias’

Musa also said that a minor criticism about Suhakam today is that it “does not want to touch on these sensitive things”.
“They don’t have to shout or make statements, they could go on a quiet trial, get things prepared. They could and should start activating this section of Suhakam to contribute to the orderliness and acceptability of demonstrations,” he added.
“If something happens, have a system of inquiry. Find the guilty one. This should be included in the bylaws. Why can’t we have such a system? I feel all this needs dialogue and an exchange of views of all stakeholders.”
However, Suhakam countered that it had offered similar proposals last year, following an open inquiry into the ‘Bloody Sunday’ protest outside the KLCC building on May 28, 2006. The commission recommended practical measures for crowd control to avoid any violence during assemblies.
“Currently it appears that arrests and prosecutions are selective and seemingly biased,” Suhakam said, also calling on the authorities to respect and uphold the law and to implement it equally as guaranteed by Article 8 of the Federal Constitution.
It expressed regret that many of its recommendations remain unheeded, noting in the statement that “this has not enhanced our national human rights status”.